When James got a Facebook message from Wendy in 2013, he didn’t know what to think. More than 20 years after a nasty high school breakup, he was afraid she was still angry with him.
James and Wendy were high school sweethearts in Forest Lake, Minn., a small town about half an hour north of Minneapolis. They fell in love and seemed to have a strong relationship. Then Wendy got pregnant but lost the baby.
While she was in the hospital, a friend told her lies about James — that he was cheating on her and that he had told people she had had a coat-hanger abortion. By the time she got out, the angry young teen wanted nothing to do with James. She wouldn’t listen to his denials.
They graduated from high school together in 1991 and then went their separate ways. They both married other people. James spent years in the military. Wendy had three daughters and ended up in Alabama. By 2013, though, each was alone. That’s when Wendy sent James that Facebook message.
Wendy told him that she would be in Minnesota for a visit and she wanted to see him while she was there. James said he didn’t know what she might want — “Maybe she still wanted to tell me off,” he said — and he turned her down without much of an explanation.
James was still in the military at the time and was about to be deployed again, but by the next year, he was getting out of the military and was back in Minnesota.
For some reason, Wendy didn’t give up. She sent him another Facebook message. She was going to be visiting family again — and she still wanted to see him.
James agreed this time.
He said he didn’t know what to expect from Wendy. He had heard of people seeing one another again after years and being disappointed. The reunion with Wendy was nothing like that, though.
James and Wendy had a lot to talk about — about the past and about everything that had happened since then. Bad weather conditions during her visit to Minnesota meant her return flight was delayed by four days, so they had far more time together than they had expected.
They had long enough together to realize their love had never died.
James visited her in Alabama not long after that. Then she and her daughters spent more time in Minnesota with him. It wasn’t too long before the high school sweethearts admitted they were in love all over again, so James moved to Alabama to marry the love of his life.
I talked with James Thursday when I went to an auto parts store to buy a battery. As he installed the new battery in my car, I asked him where he was from. His accent made me suspect it was somewhere in the Upper Midwest. So he told me his story.
Moving from Minnesota to Alabama was a bit of culture shock for James, but he said it’s the best thing he’s ever done.
“I never quit loving her and she never quit loving me,” he said. “We both needed each other. Even though we had married other people and tried to have other lives, she was always the one.”
James wished me a happy new year and I thanked him for sharing his story.
As I drove away, I had a renewed sense of optimism. If love is real, maybe it doesn’t die. If their love can survive all that time and all that distance apart, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us — even me.
For some people, real love sits hidden away in the heart, locked away from public view. How many people still love each other, but haven’t been willing to do anything about it?
What if Wendy had never found James on Facebook? What if she had taken his first no?
Real love doesn’t have to die — but it can’t live openly and flourish until we’re willing to take risks and make love a priority. Maybe there’s hope for us after all. Who knows?